Iraqis opt for less religious strife

An election born of the 2019 protests reveals a distaste for religious-based parties and a preference for clean, secular rule.

An Iraqi woman in Baghdad holds a picture of Moqtada al-Sadr, a cleric whose political bloc won the most votes in the Oct. 10 election.

In the decade before the pandemic, social hostilities involving religion were on the decline around the world, according to the Pew Research Center. In the Middle East, a region long riven by religious strife, a 2019 poll by the Arab Barometer found a drop in popular support for religious political parties. Among Arabs, declared The Economist, “Faith is increasingly personal.”

A current example of this trend can be seen in the results of an Oct. 10 election in Iraq that were announced Tuesday. The final tally was delayed by a manual recount.

The extreme Shiite parties backed by Iran lost badly. The more moderate bloc under the umbrella of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr won the most seats in Parliament with 73. Coming in second with 37 seats was the moderate Sunni party Taqaddum, or Progress, led by outgoing Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi.

Mr. Sadr campaigned as a nationalist, meaning his Shiite party will likely now form a majority coalition with Sunni parties, further reinforcing a trend away from sectarian politics and violence in Iraq. Since the election, this Muslim preacher has also asked Shiite militias to disband and join government security forces in a show of national unity.

The election itself was forced on Iraq’s political elite by a mass uprising of young people in 2019. The protests brought in a reformist prime minister and a cleanup of the election process. Most of all, the protesters sought a government not corrupted by the divvying of power along religious and ethnic lines. That 2019 Arab Barometer survey found the share of Iraqis who say they attend Friday prayers has fallen from 60% to 33% in five years’ time.

Dozens of the protest leaders won in the October election. For the first time, Iraq will have a large, independent opposition in the 329-seat Parliament to counter the religious-based parties.

The election was the fifth since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and the second since Iraq banished the Islamic State caliphate of 2014-2017. “There is much for Iraqis to be proud of in this election,” says the United Nations’ top observer in Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert.

Iraqis can also be proud for being part of a global trend away from hostilities along religious lines. Any faith that puts love at its core must extend it to all.

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